Human Cost of Natural Disasters: A Global Perspective

From the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), this report presents data about the global impacts of natural disasters on human and economic systems from 1994 to 2013. CRED focuses on all emergencies with a major human impact with special focuses on public health, epidemiology, and structural and socio-economic issues. The report focuses on trends and patterns of global natural disasters and their impacts, and how these vary regarding the income level or the geographical location. CRED also assesses the disaster damage to housing and infrastructure and the overall economic costs of disasters.

The report underlines the fact that climate-related disasters have come to dominate the risk landscape in that they account for more than 80% of all major internationally reported disasters. However, the report also notes that population growth and patterns of economic development are more important than climate change when explaining the upward trend in disaster frequency. This upward trend stems from two factors. First, population growth guarantees that more people will be in harm's way of any disaster. Second, building in flood plains, earthquakes zones, and other high-risk areas has increased the likelihood that a routine natural hazard will become a major disaster, increasing the frequency of the latter. In essence, what could have been a minor event becomes a disaster with grave effects when humans occupy risky areas. Mitigation action such as improved flood control can combat the upward trend in climate-related events.

The following are examples of some of CRED's major conclusions given its data and analysis:

  • In light of predictions that climate change will increase the frequency of storms and other extreme weather events, better management, mitigation and deployment of storm warnings could save more lives in future.
  • Reducing the size of drought-vulnerable populations should be a global priority over the next decade, given the effectiveness of early warnings and the vast numbers of people affected, particularly in Africa.
  • Better research into how and why households and communities are affected by disasters is urgently needed so that responses are based on evidence, rather than assumptions. Without such micro-level research, future DRR and disaster prevention will not be effective.

CRED obtained data for this paper through its Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT), which collects information pertaining to the occurrence and effects of natural and technological disasters. These data are used by policy-makers to set priorities, assess community vulnerability to natural disasters, and improve disaster preparedness.

According to the report, between 1994 and 2013, EM-DAT recorded 6,873 natural disasters worldwide, which claimed 1.35 million lives or almost 68,000 lives on average each year. In addition, 218 million people were affected by natural disasters on average per annum during this 20-year period.



Publication Date: March 2015

Related Organizations:

  • Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) of the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL)


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment


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